Compare and contrast
Can the Turkish constitution serve as a model for Egypt? Doaa El-Bey listens to some expert opinion
To mark the publication of the Turkish constitution in Arabic, the Ministry of Culture's National Council for Translation organised a seminar to discuss what lessons Egypt might draw from the Turkish experience.
Huseyin Havni Botsak, Turkey's ambassador to Egypt, offered a brief overview of developments in Turkey since the modern republic was established in 1924, paying particular attention to the entrenchment of democracy and the role the military played in building the nation. "Turkey", he said, "is now the world's 17th largest economy". With economic development has come a concomitant increase in living standards across society.
Egypt, said Botsak, does not need to copy from others. Nor does it need help in drafting a constitution since half the constitutions in the region were drawn up with the help of Egyptian scholars. What Egypt needs is solidarity, unity and resolve.
He described the 25 January Revolution, which he was convinced would lead to the emergence of a democratic state, as presenting an inspiring model. The seminar itself, he said, offered an opportunity to send a message to all Egyptians to look around, draw lessons from the experiences of others and discover inspiration in successful models.
Botsak pointed out that the current Turkish constitution had been amended 16 times since it was issued in 1982.
"Please do not repeat our mistakes. But if you are willing to learn from our experiences, you are welcome," he said.
Tahani El-Gebali, Egypt's first female judge and vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, said that while seeking lessons from the Turkish experience Egypt's specificity must always be kept in mind. Turkey, she said, passed through three phases. The first witnessed a form of secular extremism in which religion was completely separated from the state. In the second phase, religious extremism came to the fore while in the third an enlightened form of Islamic thinking prevailed, allowing Islamic values to inform the creation of a modern state.
Egypt, said El-Gebali, is still in the first phase. The role of its armed forces, she argued, is different because they have always been part and parcel of the state, historically and organically linked to the people's hopes for development. It is this, she said, that explains why the people welcomed the Armed Forces in Tahrir Square, seeing them as protectors of the revolution.
Egypt, continued El-Gebali, should now be able to build on its unique experience to create a state that reflects its own core values. "If we cannot," she said, "then something is wrong and we all need to go out to Tahrir Square and protest again."
Amr El-Shobaki, from Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said that comparing the two experiences did not automatically imply copying. The most salient feature of the Turkish experience, he argued, was that the years of secular-religious conflict led to the emergence of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamic civil party that offered political and economic reforms that commanded popular support. It is entirely different from the Islamic parties that now exist in Egypt, he noted.
According to El-Shobaki, three factors contributed to Turkey's success. First, it produced an Islamic party that respected the democratic process and competed within a democratic arena. It also managed to control the role of the army and contain it constitutionally. Second, the success of the Turkish experience, he said, was also dependent on reformists, such as Turgut Ozal, from inside the ruling regime. They managed to bridge the differences between hardline secularist and Islamic trends, creating a consensus. Egypt has not thrown up a reformist leader for three decades, which explains why the revolution, when it came, did so suddenly.
The third factor, said El-Shobaki, relates to the continuity of the Turkish experience: Turkey has embraced a capitalist system since 1924. There has been no political interruption which has been positively reflected in the political and legislative infrastructure. Egypt was a monarchy until 1952 and subsequently a republic, dominated first by Nasserist thinking, then the open door policies of Anwar El-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. The absence of continuity negatively affected the legislative and political life of the nation.
Egypt can learn from the Turkish experience, concluded El-Shobaki, when it comes to creating a Muslim civil trend alongside a secularist trend that is not obsessed with uprooting Islamists. The important thing is to avoid the kind of generalisations that categorise all religious trends as anti-democratic, or secularist trends as Westernised and atheistic.
Amr Shalaqami, a law professor at Cairo University, while praising the translation of the Turkish constitution, pointed out that not only has it been amended 16 times, but that it was due to be replaced by a new constitution, expected to be issued some time next year. Constitutions, he pointed out, however sincere the intentions of those who draft them, cannot by themselves guarantee genuine change on the ground.
The seminar was moderated by Al-Azhar's former spokesman Mohamed Refaa El-Tahtawi. He told participants that when drafting a new constitution Egypt should benefit from the experiences of states that have successfully applied democratic principles. The Turkish constitution promulgated in 1982, he said, refrained from allocating a monitoring role to unelected bodies like the judicial authority and national security council. It also enshrined principles that were non-amendable.